• Sat, Sep 28 2013

More Mothers Cutting Maternity Leave Short Because Hello! There Are Bills To Pay

shutterstock_128879707__1380383654_142.196.156.251More and more stories about our vanishing maternity leaves are surfacing and I’m not surprised. Guess what? Bills need to be paid. Forty percent of women are now the primary financial providers for their families. Since our country doesn’t think it’s important to mandate paid maternity leave, what other choice do we have?

From Today Moms:

About two-thirds of U.S. women are employed during pregnancy and about 70 percent of them report taking some time off, according to most recent figures from the National Center for Health Statistics. The average maternity leave in the U.S. is about 10 weeks, but about half of new moms took at least five weeks, with about a quarter taking nine weeks or more, figures showed.

But a closer look shows that 16 percent of new moms took only one to four weeks away from work after the birth of a child — and 33 percent took no formal time off at all, returning to job duty almost immediately.

I was pitching stories from my hospital bed, the day after I gave birth. I took a week off before I had the baby and a week off after. I’m in the more flexible position of being able to work from home, so I can’t even complain about this. It’s just funny to me that often times returning to work so quickly is posited as a “choice.” For most of us, it’s not a choice, it’s a necessity.

When I was seven months pregnant, we moved from New York to Florida to be closer to my family. We’re now in the fortunate position to get free help with child care. Even with this huge financial burden relieved, I still had to immediately return to my heavy weekly freelance load to make ends meet.

“The contributions that women make to household incomes are no longer the icing on the cake; they’re half the cake,” said Ken Matos, senior director of employment research and practice at the Families and Work Institute.

Vanishing maternity leave, single-provider households – parents need more help. I know, I know, Don’t have kids you can’t afford! If only it were that simple. I’ll never understand why so many will leap to that judgement, instead of criticizing a system that offers no support. It’s not okay that we fall so far behind every other developed nation when it comes to maternal support. But as long as we continue to, mothers will be splitting their time and returning to work long before they are ready – simply because there are no other options.

(photo: c12/ Shutterstock)

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  • MoD

    And even beyond “don’t have kids you can’t afford” (which I actually believe in and waited until I was financially comfortable to have kids), why only 12 weeks? That is still a super young age to leave a child. I feel like even 16 would be so much better. At my work, we get the standard 6 weeks of short-term disability and any saved up paid time off, and after that it’s unpaid. But, for instance, if I had to stop working 2 weeks before birth, then that leaves 10 weeks with my baby to bond and establish breastfeeding. After that, my job is no longer guaranteed upon my return. The maternity leave in this country is just so anti-family. Well, actually, I think it’s anti-woman, because women just should not be working, clearly, which is probably the real intent.

    If I ever have another child I’ll have to make sure to have a good chunk of money saved up so I can take a full maternity leave. Essentially we’ll wait until we can afford it, again. And I make more than my husband, so the loss of my income hurts more than the loss of his.

  • Jayamama

    I agree that, in an ideal world, women would have up to a year or more of paid maternity leave, and even fathers would be able to get more time off to bond with their new families. The problem with leaving it to “the system” is that if employers are forced to pay for maternity leave, they’ll be less likely to want to hire young women, even if they aren’t allowed to site it as a reason. It’ll simply be more economical for them to hire men or older people who have established families. And if we leave it to the government (which is already going bankrupt), then we must ask ourselves where that money is going to be coming from. People love to point to Canada or European countries as examples of governments that are supportive of families, but how healthy are their economies, really?

    It seems to me like there are no correct answers, really. It’s a difficult situation. I am blessed to be a homemaker in a one-income home, so I’ve never had to face these issues, but since I grew up in a single parent home, I am familiar with some of the difficulties. I wish there were a way for every mother to stay at home as long as she wants to, for every woman who wants to breastfeed to be given her best chance possible. I just don’t know if there really is a perfect solution out there.

    • Blueathena623

      Well, one way to push for it would be a bigger push for paternity leave. If it became more expected that males would also be taking a leave of absense after the birth of a kid, employers might come around more, because they can’t just depend on workers ages 50 and up.

    • Andrea

      This, this, SO MUCH THIS!!!!!!

      If it were mandated (and encouraged!) for ALL parents to take it, there would be much less crap given.

      I went back to work at 4 weeks (I was still bleeding for fuck’s sake!) because I couldn’t afford the rest of the FMLA mandated time at NO pay.

    • CatherineElliott

      In Canada, the parental leave can be split equally between both parents. I know several people, including my brother, who took the second half, and it made them so much closer to their children. Daddies need to bond too :D

    • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

      The Canadian economy is doing well comparatively to the United States, as measured over the past several years. Why do you believe it isn’t? We didn’t crash and burn during the recession like the States did, though we did feel it. Our current government is screwing us now, though, with wasteful spending, but I assure you our maternity leave is not a problem.
      Actually, maternity leave is very helpful to businesses. One, with women being able to take a year off at 55% of their pay (Which is funded by Employment Insurance, a government program paid into out of every paycheque by every worker) it means it makes financial sense to train and hire a contract worker to handle that empty shift for 9-12 months, say, as opposed to making do without the worker for a couple months or less (making for work for others to do in the meantime, creating a more hostile workplace for mothers who know having a child is hurting their colleagues).
      This system makes work available for others when a woman has a baby, yet keeps those women employed and contributing to the economy.
      There is a good system. It’s a healthy parental leave and a taxpayer-funded employment insurance program everyone is required to pay into. Everyone may not take the leave to become a parent, but anyone can lose their job. It’s a better system and it works.

    • Andrea

      I seriously considered moving to Canada at one point. My only concern was the long ass winter. Canada is a wonderful place for workers.

    • CatherineElliott

      I hate winter, but it makes me appreciate the summer so much more! :D

    • Toaster

      The southwest corner of BC doesn’t get serious winter, it’s pretty much Seattle’s climate. Vancouver is hideously expensive but the Island can be affordable and beautiful!

    • Eden

      The highest amount you can get is $501 this is not enough to pay your bills in most of canada. Yes this is better then the US but this is nothing compared to Europe. http://www.servicecanada.gc.ca/eng/ei/types/maternity_parental.shtml#much

    • CatherineElliott

      That is weekly, over $2000 a month.

    • sallyjone

      As CatherineElliott said, that’s the weekly payment. Not to mention the extra $160/month (or more) that you receive from the government as a “child tax benefit payment”. I’m pretty sure you get that subsidy until the kid turns six. Overall, I’m pretty glad that I live in Canada and can spend a full year hanging out with my baby without worrying about paying the bills.

    • ted3553

      again, similar to my comment above, government subsidies are based on your income. I know it’s better than the US but I max out my childcare benefits and it’s around 120/month. If you live in a costly area which many of us do, the roughly $2000 a month doesn’t cover my bills. I don’t want to get into a big argument about how people need to manage cost of living-just that when we’re talking about Canadian government subsidy, we need to be clear about it

    • CatherineElliott

      That is why it’s called a wage subsidy payment, not wage replacement payment.

    • ted3553

      you obviously didn’t read my comment clearly. I specifically called it a subsidy not a replacement payment. My comment also said that I didn’t want to get into an argument about whether or not you can live on the $2000 a month. You’re obviously satisfied with it from your comments-I didn’t say whether I was or not-simply that I wanted to clarify how the Canadian subsidies are paid. I have seen many comments about it being 55% of your salary which is misleading. Sallyjone’s comment was that people get $160 a month in child tax benefit which is also not completely true.

    • CatherineElliott

      “the roughly $2000 a month doesn’t cover my bills.”
      Ted you need to relax. No one forces you to take mat leave. If you can’t live on what they pay you, you can go back to work. This thread is full of Americans who have to because they have no choice. As Canadians, we do have a choice.

    • ted3553

      you should learn how to read better.

    • ted3553

      you should learn how to read better.

    • CatherineElliott

      You need to quit being such a biatch!

    • Jayamama

      Honestly, I wasn’t sure about the state of the Canadian economy. I just knew that most European economies are going bankrupt, some even worse than the US. Based on others’ comments, I can see that the Canadian system is not perfect, but maybe it’s still a step up from what Americans have to deal with. I also agree with the commenter who pointed out that if paternity leave were more encouraged, then employment opportunities would even out. I think a lot of subtle sexism in the workplace can be attributed to the inherent differences in familial responsibilities. The simple fact is that men can not give birth or breastfeed, and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon.

      My husband works on a shift, one week of 12 hour days and then one week off. Depending on when I go into labor with baby #2 (due in 6 weeks), he can be home with me for a few weeks and only technically take off one, maybe two, of his shifts. Again, we are very fortunate. But that still seems like a really short time for both of us to adjust to being responsible for a toddler and a newborn. It would be nice if he could get a month or more, but as the sole income, he has to be back as soon as his vacation time is up.

    • Lilly

      Yes, getting paid anything is better then getting nothing — to the person who commented that it might make employers less likely to hire a woman. I have never really seen that to be the case, and a chunk of the leave can be shared, so only hiring men wouldn’t eliminate it — case in point for July & August there were 3 fathers off for leave at my work, some only took 1-2 months and 1 is doing the whole year. A lot of European countries may have higher payouts but since they come from the employers funds there are probably issues with that, a big advantage to the Canadian system is that it takes a lot of the responsibility out of the employers hands so they are less likely to be dicks about it.

    • ted3553

      my only comment to this is that I think an incorrect message is spread about Canadian maternity leave. You do not get 55% of your salary across the board. You get 55% of your salary to a maximum of (in 2012 when I took mine) roughly 1700/month. It definitely is better than nothing but wasn’t 55% of my salary. I don’t need comments telling me how I should have been able to save lots because I make good money etc. I am just clearing up the statement I hear all over that Canada pays 55% of your salary.

    • http://www.twitter.com/ohladyjayne allisonjayne

      Here here. I’m Canadian, and I would have loved to have more money during my mat leave, but it’s a pretty damn good system I’d say…$2000/month is not ‘better than nothing’, it’s comparable to what a lot of folks I know earn monthly and I live in a very expensive city.

    • Rachel Sea

      If I could tolerate the weather, I would have moved to Canada years ago. People are happy enough to have pavement and stoplights and firemen and public playgrounds, because we recognize that society benefits when we invest in community, and safe housing, driving, and play shouldn’t be the sole privilege of the wealthy. It’s the same thing with employment. If people can have paid maternity (just like we already have paid unemployment) then the social safety net, designed to catch those at the very bottom, bears less weight.

      I already pay fistfuls of money into Social Security, even though the SSA assures me that I will see a whole $.078 for every dollar I give, because I know that it is necessary to ensure that there isn’t an epidemic of septuagenarian homeless. Why shouldn’t we pay to ensure the heath of people at the very beginnings of their life, as we do at the end?

    • Evelyn

      Yes, employers can be a little wary of hiring young women but as companies claim back most of statutory maternity pay from the state in the UK the cost doesn’t deter employing young women. The bigger problem is that you have to keep the job open for a year for someone who may not come back or may chose to come back sooner. Hiring someone in a temporary maternity cover position and then having to hire someone else after a year (the cover may not want the job permanently) or let them go earlier than they expected is a bit of a headache for employers. My boss was overjoyed when I went against HR advice and handed in notice to coincide with my due date (still got stat mat pay) so that she could advertise properly.

      Having said that when I was a young woman of prime sprogging age I didn’t have any more difficulty getting a job than anyone else. It is against the law to discriminate here and so employers are wary of inviting legal action by being that obvious. They are also not allowed to ask you if you intend to have kids.

    • Eden

      I live in canada and the amount of money I get on mat leave is very low. There is a top amount you can get. Since I top out is just over $500 every pay period. This is not enough for us to pay our bills comfortably. My husbands company offers top up for four months. So I am taking 6 months off and he is taking 6 months (we get a year here). Then we will be looking daycare which in this area is very expensive.

    • Andrea

      Better that $0 which is what we are entitled to here in the US

    • Eden

      I totally hear what your saying the money is something. But we also pay into unemployment insurance, pay higher taxes and pay more for the same goods as you. I just don’t want people to get the wrong idea that here in Canada we get a year off with our regular pay or that we have this amazing system. My point is simply that Most women I know here also end up going back to work before their leave is used up. It’s not easy no matter what side of the boarder you are on.

    • CatherineElliott

      We also make more money per hour than most Americans. You can’t live on a bowstring tight budget before kids and then expect everything to be just fine after they are born. The choice to have kids need to be prepared for. We have a great system here. You just got to live within your means…

    • Chrissy

      Being less likely to hire young women can also cost a company an outrageous amount of money in law suits. All it takes is one person realizing it happened and then others start crawling out of the woodwork and there’s a legal nightmare to prove the claims unsubstantiated (at best) or a PR and settlement nightmare (at worst). I’m not saying you’re wrong because I don’t doubt a lot of companies think like that, I’m just saying it’s a very big error in judgment and inviting trouble.

    • CrazyFor Kate

      The Canadian economy is definitely healthier than America’s, actually…

  • Kelby Johnson

    In my opinion (for what it’s worth) there aren’t many people who are ever “ready” to have a child. I took about 3 months maternity leave with my son and I didn’t go back to work after my daughter was born. I’m still home and she just started kindergarten. Neither were paid (obviously) so we have had to make a lot of sacrifices for this to be able to work out. We are considered “poor” by society’s standards, but for me to go back to work, I would be spending my entire paycheck on childcare. Our kids have what they need and most of what they want (they have both sets of grandparents and 2 great grammas to spoil them) and they are happy kids.

    I wish our country was more ‘family friendly’ when it comes to this stuff, but as the saying goes… wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one fills up first.

  • Evelyn

    Do you have to pay medical bills for pregnancy and birth in the US? If you so and if it is expensive then when you combine it with a pittance of maternity leave then surely “don’t have kids you can’t afford” becomes “the poor shouldn’t have children, reproduction should be left to those with money, especially nice traditional girls who let a husband do the earning”. While I think that you should do your best to be as financially stable as you can before kids I think that shaming people who can’t afford to be a stay at home mum when the baby is born or need hand outs of some kind can lead to a “wrong sort of people shouldn’t breed” attitude.

    • Andrea

      Depends on your insurance. If you have decent insurance, it will pay a decent chunk or most of it. Without insurance, you are SOL, unless you are poor enough to qualify for Medicaid (govt insurance for the poor)

    • Evelyn

      Even good insurance only pays some or most of the medical bills for giving birth? That’s harsh when you have the expense of raising a new baby plus childcare costs due to lack of maternity pay.

    • Andrea

      Some insurance plans don’t cover pregnancy at all. Depends. Most plans offered by employers (if you are lucky enough to have the type of employer that offers insurance) do cover it, but it will never be all the costs. If you are lucky it will be most.

      Yeah this country is INCREDIBLY harsh regarding parenting, maternity leave, insurance and working moms.For a supposedly industrialized country, it is DISGRACEFUL how people are treated.

    • CrazyFor Kate

      There are insurance plans that don’t cover pregnancy?! What the what the – I mean, I guess you could argue it’s a choice (which it often isn’t!), but then there wouldn’t be a freaking population anymore. How about taking away public schools, too? It’s not like a kid NEEDS to learn how to read. This information makes me want to barf!

    • Rachel Sea

      Some insurance requires you to take out a whole policy on the fetus in order to cover the pregnancy.

    • Angela

      We have insurance that we pay around $500 a month for (plus my husband’s employer pays even more). It still cost us $2400 when my last son was born. For my first we had somewhat better insurance and it was only $1500 out of pocket. I didn’t get paid maternity leave with either baby but with my oldest at least I had some sick/vacation time accrued so that about 2 weeks were paid. By the time my second was born I was a part-time employee which meant I was ineligible for benefits, including sick and vacation leave. So yeah, having a baby is not for the poor here.

    • Evelyn

      For $500 + employer’s contribution per month I would have thought that was enough to cover the costs. If the employer pays more than you do then the total is more than a monthly mortgage payment. That is a ridiculous amount to pay for it not to cover the entire bill. To have to stump up that amount when you aren’t getting maternity pay if you need time off sounds financially crippling.

      I had a first birth that went bad, with a caesarean under general anesthetic and a blood transfusion, that had me in a wheelchair for a few days and a week’s stay in hospital while my baby was in special care baby unit, then released to me in my room while they monitored him and continued medication (they wheeled me into my own room when he moved to SCBU so I wouldn’t have to be around mums still with babies, very thoughtful). I assume that for a complicated birth and baby care like that the costs would have been even higher, and physically and emotionally there was no way I should have been back at work after a couple of weeks. Had I no maternity pay and had we needed my income and then acrued birth costs after a bad birth like that we would have been stuffed. My birth experience can’t be that uncommon, there must be people who would struggle physically to return after traumatic births and have higher than normal hospital fees in the US. It sounds a nightmare.

    • Chrissy

      Considering how many people in the US don’t have healthcare insurance and also don’t qualify for state insurance (Medicaid), the price is RIDICULOUSLY high. And you hit the nail on the head of what those people are saying…they just like to dress it up as BUT THINK OF THE CHILDREN. But I’m not going to go on a political rant on Mommyish because nobody needs that.

    • http://twitter.com/mariaguido Maria Guido

      Totally. I hate that argument so much.

    • Mette

      You Americans live in a country that is not fond of paying taxes, and therefore a lot of people will not have access to different things that require money.
      Where I am from, we have 6 months paid maternity leave, then another 6 months on 80% of our income. We have free health care, including family doctors and hospital care, free elder care, free college and university education, we only pay 25% of what daycare costs, and some low income families even have it for free.
      However we pay 50-60% income taxes, 25% sales tax, cars and gas cost three times more than in the US. The majority of families can not get by without two incomes, so SAHMs are practically nonexistent. I am a SAHM, and we can only to this beacuse my husband has a pretty high income, we live in a rented house in a cheap area, and we do not have a car.
      So this is the difference, people. I hope you someday manage to get your politicians to understand the importance of supporting families in order to reproduce yourselves. Even with the above mentioned benefits we do not birth enough children in my country.
      When people say “dont have kids if you cant afford them” my only reply can be “well, who the hell is going to take care of you when you are old and need help?”

    • Evelyn

      We have similar where I live (England). High taxes but free healthcare, decent statutory maternity pay and decent income support for low income families with kids. We also get 15 hours per week of childcare costs paid by the government for 3 and 4 year olds which can make a huge to mums trying to get back to work. For very low income families they can sometimes get 15 hours free childcare for two year olds too. Most people here are happy to pay higher tax for this. It is one of those things that seem normal and natural here because it has been like this for a while, but I would imagine that it wasn’t so easy to push through free healthcare in the late 1940s or convince employers to out up with generous maternity leave (although that only came in in 1999). We also have a smaller population so I can see that it would be harder to implement in the US.

  • Alanna Jorgensen

    Count me in the 16%. I took four weeks and proceeded to hurt myself overdoing it by lifting heavy boxes my first day back. Mothers are a huge part of the workforce now. There is no escaping that. I don’t expect a whole year off but even three months paid leave would have helped so much.

  • Alice

    I agree that economic necessity is a good motivation for working. For a lot of parents, it simply can’t be done on one income. However, I have also seen a handful of parents who buy 300K houses, eat out, and participate in a variety of activities that elevate their bills past what could otherwise be sustainable on one income. I honestly thought we couldn’t make it on one income prior to quitting my job, but, we dramatically cut our expenses, and have decided to limp forward in this sub-optimal financial state, for the emotional well being of our family. Question: what are your guys’ typical bills?